Many MNNers already shun conventional cleaning products, most of which contain unnecessarily harsh and potentially harmful chemicals that are undisclosed on the ingredient list, if a list’s even provided. Instead, green cleaning advocates often mix their own DIY cleaning products from safer ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda and borax.

If you use all four of the ingredients I just mentioned above, I’ve got bad news. Borax isn’t so green and healthy, according to the well-respected environmental health nonprofit, Environmental Working Group.

Borax: Not the green alternative it’s cracked up to be” is the title of EWG senior scientist Rebecca Sutton’s post. What’s wrong with good old borax, which environmentalists have hailed as an excellent ingredient for both green cleaners and eco pesticides? Borax is linked to hormone disruption — which could cause sexual health problems for both men and women. Writes Sutton:

Men working in boric acid-producing factories have a greater risk of decreased sperm count and libido. According to EPA’s safety review of these pesticides, chronic exposure to high doses of borax or boric acid causes testicular atrophy in male mice, rats and dogs.

Animal studies reviewed by the EPA indicate that while the female reproductive system is less sensitive to borax, exposure to it can also lead to reduced ovulation and fertility. Borax and boric acid can cross the placenta, affecting fetal skeletal development and birth weight in animal studies of high-dose exposures.

In addition, borax can cause short-term irritations for people who accidentally inhale or ingest the stuff.

If this bad borax news is new to you, you’re not alone. Other MNN bloggers have recommended it as a green cleaning ingredient and gone so far as dedicate a whole post to its natural cleaning power. On the other hand, since borax has also been hailed as a roach killer, some environmentalists have avoided using the stuff in everyday cleaners, using borax only to kill pests as needed.

Even if daily cleaning with borax should be discouraged, is borax still a greener pesticide option — compared to conventional bug killing options like Raid? I asked EWG’s Sutton this question, and her short answer is — it depends. Here’s her long answer:

I have not yet done a rigorous comparison of home use insecticides, so it’s hard for me to say if borax is the least toxic option. Obviously, any non-pesticidal ways to control roaches etc. are important (e.g. removing food sources, patching holes/cracks from which the bugs enter, using sticky traps), but sometimes they’re not enough. I certainly would avoid dusts or powders, especially in homes with young children, since the chemical can get everywhere in this form. Baits or traps might be a better option in these cases, as the pesticide is housed in a more discrete location.
What’s an environmentalist to do for green cleaning products now? Sutton still says you can go ahead and make your own — just use the recipes that skip the borax. What should you do with the box of borax already in your home? “Since borax is a pesticide, I’d advise disposing of it at a household hazardous waste facility, same as any other home use pesticide,” says Sutton. That’s where my box of borax is headed now.

More safe cleaning solutions on MNN:

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